Rocket Boat: Search Continues For Driver
GLENBROOK, Nev. — (AP) — Lee Taylor vanished into the frigid waters of Lake Tahoe when his rocket-powered boat disintegrated while trying to set a water speed record and rescue crews have all but given up hope that he could have survived.
Searchers used floodlights and television cameras, working late into the night, but failed to find any trace of the cockpit section of the boat that was traveling well over 200 miles an hour when it caromed out of control.
The search, which lasted five hours, resumed at 9 a.m. today, but the rescue workers held out little hope that Taylor could have survived.
Sheriff's Sgt. Doug Struthers said: "He is presumed dead. He has not been officially declared dead."
Before darkness fell, crews recovered an unopened drag parachute, Taylor's helmet and several sections of the boat, but found no sign of the 45-year-old Bellflower, Calif., pilot.
"He never had a chance to say 'boo,'" said a crew member, Luke Fratello.
Denver Dickerson, project director for the record attempt, said it appeared the boat hit a "black line" of shifting currents that caught a sponson at the rear of the boat. The boat "just blew apart," Dickerson said.
He said a black line creates a surface disturbance similar to going over a bump, and the line was where Taylor started to shut off his engine.
The accident occurred after Taylor had made one of two required runs through the 1-kilometer speed trap in an attempt to break the record of 317.6 miles an hour. Reports on his speed ranged from 270 to 350 m.p.h. before he cut off his engines.
A crowd estimated at nearly 1,000, including Taylor's mother, wife and daughter, greeted the pilot with cheers as he raced through the speed trap. The shouts turned to screams when the boat flew apart and sank in 200 feet of water about a half mile offshore.
Taylor tested the boat this summer on Walker Lake southeast of Reno and reached unofficial speeds of 333 m p.h.
"It's euphoric" traveling at that speed, he had said. "It's sort of like riding the tip of an arrow just shot from a bow."
Taylor had said he hoped to hit 350 m.p.h. in yesterday's attempt to take the record from Australia's Ken Warby.
Warby broke Taylor's previous record in June, 1978, after Taylor held the mark 11 years. Both records were set in jet boats. This was the first attempt in a rocket-powered craft.
Taylor survived a jet-boat crash in 1964 on Lake Havasu in Arizona.
The 40-foot U.S. Discovery II was powered by a 16,000-horsepower rocket designed for aircraft and missiles and fueled by 1,000 pounds of hydrogen peroxide. The boat was valued at $2.5 million.
(The October, 1979, crash of Miss Budweiser in Seattle that injured Dean Chenoweth was an attempt to set a straightaway mile record for unlimited hydroplanes, which are propeller-driven. The Budweiser was going an estimated 215 m.p.h. when it crashed.)
(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, November 14, 1980)
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